Girl with rare, severe face cancer sparks emotion in 'hope' photo campaign

A little girl's photo gets busy New Yorkers to stop and take notice.

ByABC News
March 31, 2017, 3:36 PM

— -- Despite the rain in New York City on Tuesday, many people stopped to "give hope" through photos to a little girl with severe face cancer find free medical care.

Some of them were moved to tears, as they posed for photos with the little girl's portrait for her birthday.

Jennifer Allen Friales is a 9 year old in the Philippines who has a rare form of cancer called Ewing sarcoma.

Jennifer Allen's cancer is primarily on her face and has left her with severe facial abnormalities. Ewing Sarcoma in itself is rare and having it in the face even more so, according to Dr. Steven DuBois, a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

"Only approximately 250 to 300 new patients are diagnosed each year in the United States," DuBois told ABC News. "Ewing sarcoma can arise anywhere in the body, but the most common sites are in the bones of the legs and arms and in the pelvis. Involvement of the bones of the face is unusual."

DuBois said he has never seen a case like this before.

The number of pediatric Ewing sarcoma cases diagnosed in the Philippines each year is unknown, but Maya's Hope, the organization behind the birthday photos in New York City, said Jennifer Allen does not have access to proper medical care in the Philippines.

She turned 9 on March 27 and the organization said that, in order for her to live to see her next birthday, she needs to come to the U.S. The organization posted nearly 100 photos of Jennifer Allen to their Facebook page. "We hope that through awareness, a U.S. hospital will take her as a charity patient," it reads.

"I was at a hospital in the Philippines, tending to other kids," Maya Rowencak, the founder of Maya's Hope told ABC News, "and I saw her from the side. She looked like a horse. I found her mother and asked how I could help." According to its web site, Maya's Hope "works to improve the quality of life of orphaned, impoverished, and special-needs children on a global scale."

Rowencak said Jennifer's mother had to quit her job to care for Jennifer, who cannot attend school because of the high risk of infection. The mother and daughter would sit inside hospitals in Manilla from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and no one would see them, she said.

In a video Jennifer Allen's mother made, Leah Friales said she hopes "a doctor in the U.S.A. will consider my daughter."

Eventually, with the help of the foundation, Jennifer Allen was given chemotherapy in her home country. But she needs surgery, Rowencak said, and that can only happen in the U.S.

"If there's any hope for her, it's here," she said.

"The general approach to treating a patient with Ewing sarcoma involves intensive chemotherapy as well as local measures to the primary tumor. Local measures may include surgery, radiation therapy, or some combination of surgery with radiation," Dr. Dubois told ABC News.

Rowencak said the organization was hopeful they would be able to get Jennifer Allen into St. Jude's, but were unsuccessful. ABC News reached out to St. Jude's who said that they could not confirm this because of privacy laws.

"We can tell you that any child seeking treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital needs to be referred by her/his physician to one of our doctors," a spokesperson for St. Jude's said in an email to ABC News. "Most of the children at St. Jude are enrolled in protocols, as it is a research hospital, and that is often a determining factor for admission – whether or not there is an available protocol for the patient's particular disease and disease stage that is accepting new patients."

Now Maya's Hope is hoping the photos of Jennifer Allen will inspire a U.S. based-doctor to see her.

Many of the people who stopped to take a photo with Jennifer Allen's birthday picture seemed to be moved by her story, according to the photographer who volunteered to shoot the event.

Kristin Boncher told ABC News, "It was pouring rain out so I was surprised and moved by how many people were willing to help us with our project to raise awareness for Jennifer Allen. Somehow busy New Yorkers, business men, artists, tourists, bicycle delivery men, moms with kids all stopped to listen and help. It was quite moving to see the photographs when I got home of all the different people and in this very divisive time politically."